Quebec's Indigenous inquiry to explore 'climate of tension and mistrust'

Jacques Viens, the retired judge presiding over a probe into the treatment of Indigenous people in Quebec, says he wants to find out what led to a "climate of tension and mistrust" in Val-d'Or and across the province.

2-year investigation will look at how Indigenous people are treated by police, social services

Retired Superior Court justice Jacques Viens says Indigenous people who want to share their stories can contact the Commission directly. (Vincent Desjardins/Radio-Canada)

The retired judge presiding over a probe into the treatment of Indigenous people in Quebec says he wants find out what led to a "climate of tension and mistrust" in Val-d'Or and across the province.

Former Superior Court justice Jacques Viens told a news conference Thursday the goal of the two-year inquiry, officially launched Thursday, is to listen, encourage reconciliation and move forward together.
The allegations against police in Val-d'Or prompted protests and helped drive calls for an inquiry. (Jonathan Montpetit/CBC)

He welcomed testimony from anyone who wants to raise concerns about "any form of violence, discriminatory practices or different treatment in the provision of services to the Indigenous people of Quebec."

Representatives of the national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women were on hand for the announcement. That federal inquiry is to work in conjunction with the provincial probe.

Cautious optimism

First Nations women who attended the inquiry's launch says Indigenous people have the power to make it a success.

Melissa Saganash, the director of Cree-Quebec relations for the Grand Council of the Crees, says people have to talk about their experiences.

"The people need to come. They are the ones who are living this reality and they will be the people the best-placed to provide some solutions, and say what's happening," she said.

The commission begins this spring by hearing from civil servants and managers who work in the health, social and justice services. But in the meantime, people can send in their experiences or complaints in writing or by phone.

At that point, the prosecutor's team will investigate, check with the local provincial office so Quebec government employees, whether they be doctors, social workers, correctional officers or police, can comment.

Prosecutor Christian Leblanc says if the public inquiry hears the same story from a variety of people, that will prove systemic discrimination.

"They have the power to investigate that story," says Saganash. "And still if after that, nothing is coming out, and there is complete denial, there is another tool: the judge can call people to come and testify."

Melissa Saganash, director of Cree-Quebec relations for the Grand Council of the Crees, is encouraging Indigenous people to come forward with their stories. (Catou MacKinnon/CBC)

Commission will complement federal inquiry

Premier Philippe Couillard announced the inquiry last December, saying it would focus on how Indigenous communities across the province are treated by various public bodies, including the police, correctional services, youth protection and the health care system.

Couillard said the provincial inquiry would not re-examine the allegations of police abuse in Val-d'Or, but would look into systemic relations in the region between police and Indigenous people, as well as complement the federal inquiry.​

The commission of inquiry will look at the last 15 years of Indigenous and provincial relations and hold hearings with Indigenous people, police and other affected communities in Val'd'Or and, if the commission deems it necessary, other regions in Quebec.

The inquiry's work is expected to be completed by Nov. 30, 2018.

With files from Catou MacKinnon